Detail from The Canal, Amsterdam, 1889, James McNeill Whistler, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

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The Coast of Brittany

Technique

The Coast of Brittany, Wadsworth Atheneum
The Coast of Brittany, Wadsworth Atheneum

It is painted on a canvas that was probably acquired in France, for it is a 'toile de cinquante' (89 x 116 cm). The canvas bears the stamp: 'L'Rue Chil[debert] Paris / Hard[y] Alan'. P. Hardy-Alan (fl. 1860-1903) was at 1 rue Childebert, near St Germain-des-Prés, Paris, from 1859-1868. 1

On returning from France early in 1862, Whistler described the painting to George du Maurier (1834-1896), who in turn reported: '(The sand was not laid on with a palette knife.) And there is not one part of the picture with which he [Whistler] is not thoroughly satisfied he says, and its open air freshness nothing can stand against.' 2

Conservation History

Unknown.

Frame

  • 1861/1862: a French-made Louis XVIth style frame, attributed to the Parisian frame firm Dutocq & Fernandez, whereabouts unknown.
  • After 1904: replaced after the Whistler Memorial Exhibition in Boston with an American made Grau-style frame that is currently on the painting.

In November/ December 1861, Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) mentioned that Whistler had been back in Paris a couple of weeks, but would not show anyone his painting until it was cleaned and framed ('nettoyé et encadré'). 3


                    Design for a picture frame, G. A. Lucas Collection, Baltimore Museum of Art
Design for a picture frame, G. A. Lucas Collection, Baltimore Museum of Art

When ordering a frame for another seascape in 1862, Whistler asked George Aloysius Lucas (1824-1909) for one similar to that made for The Coast of Brittany, 'richly carved, and bold - deep and rather broad; massive but not cumbersome, and well finished.' 4 He reminded Lucas, 'The Brittany sea piece last year was a "toile de cinquante" and the frame very large and deep as you remember - it cost 150 [francs].' 5

When The Coast of Brittany was bought by Whistler's half-brother, George William Whistler (1822-1869), he asked Whistler about a frame:

'I want a nice & appropriate frame … I like as little of a frame around a picture as possible - Have the framing & packing well done, & I will pay you for it ... I dont know if the sea piece would look well with less frame than it now has - use your own judgement.' 6

Then George apparently queried the price of what he had bought and the artist offered take the picture back, promising, 'I will see that you are not troubled with the bill from the frame maker, or if he have already sent it, I will return you the sum.' 7 However, there are no further letters surviving and George kept the framed picture.

Whistler Memorial Exhibition, Boston 1904, photograph detail, GUL Whistler PH6/15
Whistler Memorial Exhibition, Boston 1904, photograph detail, GUL Whistler PH6/15
Whistler Memorial Exhibition, Boston 1904, photograph, GUL Whistler PH6/27
Whistler Memorial Exhibition, Boston 1904, photograph, GUL Whistler PH6/27

The frame, made in 1862 or 1863, appears in photographs of the Whistler Memorial Exhibition in Boston in 1904. It was then in a French-made Louis XVIth style frame, attributed to the Parisian frame firm Dutocq & Fernandez, which has since been replaced. 8

The painting is now in a Grau-style frame, probably American, dating from after 1904.

Notes:

1: Simon, Jacob, 'British artists' suppliers, 1650-1950', National Portrait Gallery website at http://www.npg.org.uk/research.

2: Du Maurier 1951 [more] , pp. 104-05.

3: Copy of letter from Fantin-Latour to Edwin Edwards, 1861, Bibliothèque Municipale, Grenoble.

4: 18 October [1862], GUW #01987.

5: [27 October 1862], GUW #01988.

6: 2 May 1863, GUW #06676.

7: 7 October 1863, GUW #06677.

8: Dr Sarah L. Parkerson Day, Report on frames, 2017; see also Parkerson 2007 [more] .

Last updated: 4th June 2021 by Margaret